Bucky Walters, one of the finest pitchers in Cincinnati Reds history, gained some notoriety last year when he was selected as one of ten finalists on the pre-World War II ballot for Hall of Fame consideration. Only Joe Gordon made the Hall from the ballot, but it help get Bucky’s name the exposure it deserves.
Originally a third baseman, Bucky made it to the Major Leagues with the Braves as a position player in 1931. After a few years playing the field, Bucky failed to impress and had his contract sold to the Pacific Coast League. The Red Sox bought Bucky and kept him as a position player with little success. He was sold to the Phillies in 1934 and hit .260 as their regular third baseman. In 1935, the Phillies converted Bucky to a pitcher where he became a star.
Saddled to a terrible Phillies team, Bucky led the NL in shutouts in 1936 but also was the league leader in losses. He was saved from the lowly Phillies when he was traded to the Reds for catcher Spud Davis. He established himself as the National League’s top pitcher in 1939, winning the MVP Award while leading the senior circuit in wins (27), ERA (2.29), complete games (31), innings pitched (319) and strikeouts (137). Bucky made his second All-Star (he would make six All-Star teams in his career) while leading the Reds to a World Series. Against the Yankees, Bucky didn’t have success, dropping two games with an ERA close to 5.00.
Bucky was just as good in 1940, again the leading the NL in wins (22), ERA (2.48), complete games (29) and innings pitched (305). He took the Reds to the World Series again and had better luck against the Tigers, winning two games on a tidy 1.50 ERA. For the third straight year, Bucky led NL pitchers in complete games and innings pitched in 1941. He was one win shy of twenty while keeping his ERA low at 2.83.
In 1942, Bucky had a 2.66 ERA while helping his cause with a .242 batting average (he was a lifetime .243 hitter). He finished fourth in the league in strikeouts. By this time, World War II began to have an effect on Major League rosters and many of Bucky’s teammates left to fight in the war. Bucky, who was in his early thirties during the war years, was left untouched by the draft and played throughout the fighting.
Bucky won 15 games in 1943 and then led the senior circuit with 23 wins in 1944. In ’44, Walters was also the league’s runner-up in the ERA and shutout departments. It marked ten straight years in which he tossed 240+ innings.
The many innings Bucky logged began to hinder his stamina in 1945 but not his effectiveness. Keeping his ERA low, Bucky failed to reach 200 innings for the first time since 1935. However, he was able to win ten games on a 2.68 ERA. When 1946 began, the game’s stars had returned to the diamond and it looked as if an aging Bucky would struggle to compete with the returning youngsters, but Bucky kept baffling batters, posting a 2.56 ERA at the age of 37 in ’46.
After a rough 1947 season, Bucky was handed the role of manager and his days on the mound dwindled. He took over the Reds from Johnny Neun late in ’48 and the Reds finished 7th in the league. He managed the Reds in ’49 to another 7th place finish before receiving his pink slip. He ended his playing career with one game pitched for the 1950 Braves.
One of the finest hitting pitchers of all-time, Bucky drove in 234 runs in his career while socking 23 long balls. More than a good hitting pitcher, Walters was also an elite moundsman, finishing in the Top Ten in wins and innings pitched eight times, and the Top Ten in shutouts nine times.
W 198/L 160/PCT .553/G 428/CG 242/IP 3,104/H 2,990/BB 1,121/SO 1,107/SHO 42/ERA 3.30